Labour is set to receive a £5mn financial boost from the former boss of a car glass repair company to help it fight the next election, in an indication that the UK’s main opposition party is proving successful at wooing new donors.
Gary Lubner, who made hundreds of millions of pounds running the company behind Autoglass, told the Financial Times he wanted to give Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer financial help to put the party in power “for a long time”.
Electoral Commission figures to be released on Thursday will show that South African-born Lubner gave £500,000 to Labour in the first quarter of 2023, on top of £200,000 in previous donations.
Lubner said he had given “significantly more” in the second quarter of 2023 and that he would continue that financial trajectory to help Labour build up its “capacity and capability” before the general election next year.
“This is the beginning,” he said. “I intend to give more as we move towards the general election.”
People with knowledge of his intentions expect his total donations before the election to top £5mn and Lubner — while declining to put an exact number on it — confirmed that was a reasonable conclusion to draw based on the scale of his gifts to date.
That would make him one of Labour’s biggest individual donors in this parliament; longstanding supporter Lord David Sainsbury, former chair of the eponymous supermarket group, recently gave the party £2mn.
Lubner’s support will give Starmer the financial firepower to match the recent donation of £5mn to the ruling Conservatives by Mohamed Mansour, an Egyptian-born billionaire, the biggest such gift to the Tories for 20 years.
Starmer’s allies said the party expected to exceed the £6mn it raised in donations last year in the first half of 2023 alone, with a big rise in individual gifts on top of its traditional sources of income from trade unions.
Lubner said he recognised his donations would put him in the spotlight — an unfamiliar experience for the 64-year-old who has shied away from publicity throughout his career.
Speaking at his offices in London’s West End, Lubner said he wanted to give away “the vast majority” of his wealth, mainly to charitable causes but also to help to put Labour back into office.
“There’s only one bed you can sleep in,” he said, adding that his three children supported his decision. “My kids are not interested. I don’t think it’s the right thing to pass on that amount of wealth.”
Lubner became CEO of Belron, a vehicle glass repair and replacement company, in 2000, taking on a business which had its origins in his grandfather’s glass firm in South Africa. But he said he took “very little credit” for its subsequent success.
Lubner benefited from what he called “highly leveraged incentive schemes”, leaving him extremely rich when he stepped down at Belron in March.
He said he was politicised in South Africa after being conscripted into the police force, describing apartheid as “a brutal, brutal system which I saw at first hand”.
His grandparents were Jewish refugees from one of the pogroms in Russia in the early 20th century and his grandmother saw her parents shot in front of her. When antisemitism surfaced in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, he was appalled.
“I was horrified by what was going on,” he said. His youngest son, a Labour student activist, was “abused, pilloried, attacked” during that period. With reference to anti-Semites in the Labour party, he added: “Starmer got rid of them, to his credit. It was a real cancer in the party.”
Lubner said he wanted his money to build up the party’s ability to sustain itself in power; he is also giving cash to affiliated think-tanks and a group committed to getting more women Labour MPs into parliament.
Issues such as the government’s migration strategy and Brexit had made him determined to help bankroll Labour, he said.
“In the long list of Tory failures in the last 13 years, Brexit is top of the list,” he said. “It’s a disaster. There’s nothing good about it. Nothing.”
Lubner insists he is not giving money to Labour to win a peerage and that in an ideal world political donations and the House of Lords would both be abolished.
Asked if he had any skeletons in his cupboard, Lubner replied: “Supporting West Ham.”